PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In an effort to improve treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder, a team of researchers has for the first time recorded electrical signals in the human brain associated with ebbs and flows in OCD symptoms over an extended period in their homes as they went about daily living. The research could be an important step in making an emerging therapy called deep brain stimulation responsive to everyday changes in OCD symptoms.
OCD, which affects as much as 2% of the world’s population, causes recurring unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors. The disorder is often debilitating, and up to 20-40% of cases don’t respond to traditional drug or behavioral treatments. Deep brain stimulation, a technique that involves small electrodes precisely placed in the brain that deliver mild electrical pulses, is effective in treating over half of patients for whom other therapies failed. A limitation is that DBS is unable to adjust to moment-to-moment changes in OCD symptom, which are impacted by the physical and social environment . But adaptive DBS — which can adjust the intensity of stimulation in response to real-time signals recorded in the brain — could be more effective than traditional DBS and reduce unwanted side effects.
“OCD is a disorder in which symptom severity is highly variable over time and can be elicited by triggers in the environment,” said David Borton, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Brown University, a biomedical engineer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology and a senior author of the new research. “A DBS system that can adjust stimulation intensity in response to symptoms may provide more relief and fewer side effects for patients. But in order to enable that technology, we must first identify the biomarkers in the brain associated with OCD symptoms, and that is what we are working to do in this study.”
The research, led by Nicole Provenza, a recent Brown biomedical engineering Ph.D. graduate from Borton’s laboratory, was a collaboration between Borton’s research group, affiliated with Brown’s Carney Institute for Brain Science and School of Engineering; Dr. Wayne Goodman’s and Dr. Sameer Sheth’s research groups at Baylor College of Medicine; and Jeff Cohn from the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Psychology and Intelligent Systems Program; and Laszlo Jeni from Carnegie Mellon University. The study is published in Nature Medicine.